Christianity Is Not a Plastic Smile

Today Lookout Magazine published my latest piece on Christians and a theology of suffering:

There is a country song I like to play around the house that always irks my wife. Josh Turner croons, “Everything is fine, fine, fine.” Angela detests it because she says that this is my go-to answer whenever there is a problem at home. While I won’t stop playing Josh Turner, I have to acknowledge that she is right.

Everything is not fine. Though we are redeemed, rescued, chosen, forgiven, and risen, we still live. On mission. In the world. We are already in the kingdom of God and not yet experiencing the full reality of this world’s restoration and renewal. This is why our teaching, our preaching, and our conversations should reflect the world’s brokenness.

Christianity is not a plastic smile. It is Jesus visiting us in the midst of our mess, walking us through our temptations and brokenness. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who prepares a table for us in the midst of our enemies. When we drink from the cup and eat the bread on Sunday, we are acknowledging Jesus’ victory even as the war rages around us.

Sometimes those of us who live semi-comfortable lives in the West are tempted to speak as if conversion to Christianity will usher in a panacea. But Jesus offers no such short-term salve. He promised his disciples a life of peace, but also a life of suffering (John 14-16). Both Peter and James assured their audiences that suffering accompanies walking with the Savior. But we press on, we cling to the goodness of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, knowing that even a lifetime of pain is but a fading dot on the timeline of eternity (Romans 8:18-31). We look to Jesus’ victory over death as our hope.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:6-12).

We draw from the deep well of gospel hope, believing the words Jesus whispered to Martha, Lazarus’ sister: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

This is the essence of real faith. We are triumphant and victorious, but we are also not afraid to face death, to talk about death, to lament over this most bitter of enemies. In this, we show the world around us that God has visited us in the midst of our brokenness and offers us himself.

You can read the whole thing here.

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